How to Change Your Behavior from Intern to Employee

Congratulations, you landed yourself a job! That alone is a BFD and you totally deserve a solid pat on the back.  But with your new career also comes that seemingly daunting, scary idea of the real world.  News flash: you’re no longer an innocent intern, you’re (gasp) a legitimate employee!  So before sauntering into the workplace on the first day, there are a few changes that you may need to make to ensure that you’re acting like a full-time staffer—it’s goodbye college classes and hello extended chats at the water cooler.  To help you make the transition from intern to real live working girl, we talked to Vicki Salemi, the chief of Career Boot Camp for College Grads—a three-month program that teaches graduates how to strategize and create action plans—and author of Big Career in the Big City, to give you all the tips and tricks you need to know.

The Basics

You have probably proven yourself at past internships and wowed employers during the interview process, but now that you finally landed the full-time gig, it’s officially time to shine.  And just where do you begin? Square one: take yourself and your job seriously.

To prove how much you care to your employer, Salemi recommends, “arriving to work on time, keeping your workspace neat, looking and acting professional, and being a solid team player.” But let’s break that down even more. 

Previously, as an intern, your supervisor may have turned a blind eye as you slipped in late. But now that you’re an actual employee, tardiness will not work to your benefit.  Showing up on time (or even early!) shows your dedication and commitment to your position, and proves to your boss that you’re definitely not a slacker. 

“I was always the intern that showed up late.  In fact, my internship supervisor used to joke about it, always expecting me to show up 15 minutes later than usual,” says Alyssa, a 2011 BU graduate. “So, when I actually got a job at the company, my supervisor sat me down and told me to seriously work on getting there on time.  I wanted to be taken seriously as an employee, instead of the coffee fetching intern, so I stepped up my game and made sure to crawl out of my bed before I could snooze seven times.  My boss has actually complimented me on how great it is that I arrive at work before a bunch of my co-workers.”

The same can be said for keeping your workspace neat and presenting yourself as a professional.  Leave the intern antics of chit-chatting, giggling, and being hungover behind, and come to work ready to hit the ground running. 

As for being a team player, come prepared both to step up and speak up!  Go to staff meetings with ideas and opinions—don’t be a ‘yes man’ just to look like you’re in agreement.  If you have an awesome idea, share it!  Your mind and personality are what attracted your boss to you in the first place.

“As an intern, you may have been given project work to do by a boss, but as an employee, even though you may still be given work from your boss, take pride in it and own it,” Salemi says. 

As an intern, you left the office come August and retreated back to campus.  Now you’re there for a longer period of time.  Whether it’s six months, a year, or seven years, you need to stick with assignments and complete them with a smile.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Salemi says. So don’t rush through it! Don’t hand in anything you’re not proud of just so you can get out early to meet your friends for happy hour. It’s time to step up to the plate and dedicate yourself to your work. Now that you’re a full-time employee, your work can (and will) determine your future.

What to Wear

Every workplace is different.  If you’re unsure of what the environment of the office is like, always dress professionally for day one—you can learn where to go from there.

“Take cues from your colleagues,” Salemi says. “If it’s a casual atmosphere and everyone’s wearing jeans, you can wear jeans too. But, make sure they’re neat and not the torn kind.”

More importantly, there’s a huge difference between cutesy outfits from your intern days and a professional wardrobe.  Toss out those tanks you’ve been wearing since sophomore year of high school and exchange them for blouses, colorful necklaces, and pieces that have a more mature look to them.

“Shopping for work clothes is a whole new experience.  I said goodbye to leggings and oversized sweaters, and found clothes that didn’t make me look I may or may not be homeless (but still chic!),” says Alex, a 2012 Penn State graduate. “Instead, I picked out tons of professional-looking shirts that I felt comfortable being around CEOs in.  I’m not dressing to the nines, but I don’t look like I rolled out of bed late for the day.”

Salemi recommends Ann Taylor, and J.Crew is another great option. But whichever store you prefer, remember it’s completely fine to mix and match and create several outfits out of only a few pieces—in fact, it’s an awesome way to expand your closet! Check out some wardrobe tips and tricks here.

Interacting with Co-Workers

You have co-workers now! Weird, right?  But, also a great opportunity to build relationships, network, and create new friendships.  First things first, however, you’ve got to get a feel for how everyone interacts. Is it casual over email, formal in front of the boss, or a gray area in between? The best way to find out and get a true lay of the land is by observing, of course.  Take cues from others by seeing how they converse with one another and just what they’re chatting about.

“On my first day of work, I tried to keep cool and have all my conversations be light and friendly,” says Rachel, a 2012 GWU graduate. “I didn’t want to be overly perky and overbearing to deter people away.  But, once I started getting the hang of working every day, I started thinking of my co-workers like my classmates.  We can talk about what’s going on in our lives, as long as we’re out of earshot of those who would find it inappropriate.  You wouldn’t talk to your professor about your blackout weekend, so you shouldn’t talk about it with your boss, either.”

“Sure, it's fine for them to get to know you like the fact that you just adopted a puppy but as for a hilarious story that happened at a party at 2 a.m. on Saturday night? Leave it out of the office,” Salemi says.

Although every workplace is different, you always want to be mature and professional, so be mindful of who can hear what you’re discussing.  Like Rachel noted, you don’t want your boss to know that you drank ten tequila shots on Friday night.  While it’s okay to share with your co-workers—depending on how close you are—there are some things that your superiors should just not be informed about.

Overall, Salemi recommends that recent grads aim to be pleasant, friendly, and professional. Be mindful about who to share what stories with—use that college degree to determine what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Be Confident!

You’re no longer an intern.  You’ve proven to employers that they need you, that you bring something special to the team, and that you’re going to make a positive contribution to the office.  That being said, you should have confidence in everything you do!  You worked hard to get the position, now it’s your time to prove yourself and shine bright. 

“Feel confident that you're launching your career and be willing to learn from everyone and everything around you,” Salemi says.

The emphasis here is that you should be self-assured and secure with yourself in the fact that you’re ready to learn and discover more of your capabilities in your profession.  In an entry-level position you need to take time and learn from your surroundings, but as Salemi says, you need to trust that you’re where you need to be.  So, don’t get too arrogant that you’re not Vice President of the company by your 23rd birthday.

“Sometimes I get annoyed at my entry level job and the fact that I sometimes am still doing intern work,” says Michelle, a 2010 GWU graduate.  “But, then I remember that everyone else started where I am.  I’m at a spot where I can only move forward and do bigger and better things.  You just have to remember that when you’re feeling frustrated.”

This job is a stepping stone in what will hopefully be a successful career path, and a key thing to focus on is y-o-u.  You are what you’re selling to your employer, so it’s crucial that with your confidence comes a sense of assertiveness and that you speak up! 

“Ask questions, don't be a pushover or a wallflower. Your voice counts. Remember that!” Salemi says. They hired you for a reason—they want to hear what you have to say.


So collegiettes, now that your contract is signed, sealed, and delivered it’s time to show the world just how fabulous you are with a work ethic that is professional, confident, and surely going to prove to your boss that you’re not some intern who can be looked over.  See you on the other side, real world!